BLOUNTVILLE — In 2013, the year before Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris sponsored the VETS Act, veterans in the Volunteer State had an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.
In 2014, the rate fell to 4.5 percent, and Sen. Norris, R-Collierville, said he is confident the rate for 2015, to be announced soon, will be even lower considering the December rate was 2.5 percent.
The skills gap is “compounded for many of our veterans,” said Norris, No. 2 in Senate leadership next to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountvillle. Norris said there are many factors in the unemployement drop, including an improved economy, but he said he believes the VETS program is part of the solution.
Norris, who chairs the Senate Veterans Oversight Committee, and other elected and appointed officials were at Northeast State Community College Friday afternoon for its formal designation as a VETS Campus by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in recognition of the college’s support of student veterans. Northeast State is one of 13 institutions in Tennessee to be named a VETS Campus out of six state universities and 27 community colleges. In a move to help soliders transition to being students, Northeast State provides services to more than 250 students who have previously served or are serving in the armed forces.
The VETS Campus designation is part of the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act of 2014, sponsored by Norris. Campuses that meet the requirements must prioritize outreach to veterans and create an environment in which veteran students have the resources to thrive. Specific requirements include annual surveys of veteran students, targeted orientation programs and mentoring and support services developed specifically for students who are veterans.
THEC administers the VETS Campus program and provides the designation to campuses that meet its requirements.
“This honor is a testament to the hard work of our staff and faculty to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for our student veterans,” said Northeast State President Dr. Janice Gilliam.
Other speakers at the event included Tennessee Congressman Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, Ramsey and Russ Deaton, THEC’s interim executive director. Roe is an Army veteran and physician who serves on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee. Roe said that Korea, an impoverished nation in 1973-74 when he served there, today has the 10th largest economy in the world “because of what veterans did,” while since U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, that country has seen life expectancy rise from 44 years to 60 years, as well as drops in childhood mortality.
“You guys have stepped up. You get it,” Deaton said.
Northeast State received $94,000 under a Veterans Reconnect grant last year. That grant funded the Veterans Affairs Endowed Scholarship and the Veterans Emergency Scholarship. It enabled the purchase of new information technolgy equipment, furniture and televisions for both the Blountville and Johnson City Campus Vet Centers, new IT equipment for the Veterans Affairs Office and the purchase of books titled “Life During College — The Veteran’s Guide to Success.” The guide provides information on the differences between military and college culture, study habits, managing finances and maximizing benefits, and employment-seeking skills.
“In Tennessee, we are working hard to ensure that veterans have the services and support they need to be successful in pursuing higher education,” Deaton said. “Northeast State has proven to be an example of all that a campus can do to welcome and serve the veterans who have so bravely served our country.”
The son of a World War II B-24 pilot, Norris also sponsored the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, legislation helping deployed parents deal with custody issues, enhanced Prior Learning Assessments for academic credit to vets for service-related training, and Vets Reconnect. In an interview, he said he hopes to expand the VETS program to private colleges. Ramsey’s father was a veteran, as was Gilliam’s father and middle son.
Below is a video of Norris talking about the VETS designation and other veteran issues: